For recipes please follow these links:
- Oaxacan (banana leaves) tamales
- Corn husk tamales
- Sweet corn husk tamales tamales
- Refried beans tamales
Like I’ve mentioned many times before, in Mexico everything is an excuse for celebration and we love to celebrate with food. A party is not a party without tons of delicious food. And what a better way to celebrate (other than with tacos) than with tamales? The history of the tamal (from the Nahuatl tamalli which means “wrapped”) is a very interesting one. It was a very popular food in Mesoamerica when the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. Civilizations from this area used the tamales as portable foods for armies, hunters and travelers. But that wasn’t the only purpose of the tamal. They were described by the conquistadors as a popular food eaten by the lower and upper classes of the Mexica empire. Archeological evidence suggests that it had been eaten by earlier civilizations as far back as 5000 BC.
Tamales in Mexico are as varied as the country itself. Every region has its own distinctive way to make tamales and also wrap them. And the fillings, well, let’s say that you can make tamales of any flavor you can think of. Although tamales are still a very important part of our culinary heritage and eaten year round, they are the staple food for Día de la Candelaria on February 2nd. This festivity is closely linked to the feast of the Magi on January 6th. The king’s cake or ring usually has 1 or 2 dolls embedded that represent baby Jesus and whoever gets them is expected to make tamales on February 2nd. This wasn’t my case, but when Foodbuzz call for submissions for January’s 24 event I knew I wanted to make tamales being so close to dia de la Candelaria.
I had never made tamales myself before. My parents made them for a while, but that was a long time ago. My grandma, on my mother’s side, also used to make tamales all the time, but that happened a long time before I was born. However, I knew I could do this (with my mom’s guidance, of course). The preparations started last Wednesday with a trip to the largest market on earth, Central de Abasto in Mexico City. I will write more about this amazing place for my Market Monday series tomorrow, but I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures to give you an idea of what this place looks like:
We got most of the ingredients in Central de abasto and were ready to start cooking Friday morning. We planned to make corn husk and banana leaf tamales with 8 different fillings so we needed to start cooking early for our brunch on Saturday. The first step was making the fillings:
Followed by beating the masa (dough) which consists of freshly milled corn, lard (lots of it), salt and sugar (for the sweet kinds) for the corn husk tamales. This step is the most important one to make delicious tamales. The dough for the banana leaf tamales is different. It has chicken broth, lard, tortilla masa and salt. I’ll be posting tamal recipes the rest of this week and maybe even the following one so don’t worry, you’ll get all the recipes. I couldn’t have done this without my lovely baby, though. She makes my life a lot more easier:
The next step was washing the corn husks, we started with this kind first, and filling them with the dough and actual fillings and placing them in the tamalare (a big pot where the tamales are steamed until cooked). This part was done by my mom and a friend of hers who insisted on helping us out. She wanted to learn how to make them and we needed the help, which was a win-win situation:
That night we ended up so tired that we decided to make the banana leaf tamales the following morning. By then we had more than 100 tamales ready to be cooked first thing Saturday morning. We didn’t make as many banana leaf tamales as corn husk ones and the process was somehow easier and more fun, I think. First the banana leaves have to be “cooked” by passing them over a flame until they change color, but being careful not to burn them or they won’t be useful to wrap the tamales.
We only made two fillings for this kind of tamales, but they were by far the best ones. The first kind was mushrooms cooked in a green tomatillo sauce and the second one picadillo (ground beef with vegetables) wrapped in a Swiss chard leaf, oh so delicious:
But what is a tamalada without a traditional corn drink? My mom made a BIG pot of champurrado with cinnamon and traditional Mexican chocolate, perfect for a chilly morning. Everything was ready, and then the guests started to arrive:
We were 11 diners total: my aunts Belen, Sofi and Lidia, my sister Norma and brother in-law Ignacio, my mom, dad and cousin Zury, my friends Ruth Alegria and Marco and I. And these were the little stars of the day:
They were so tasty and pretty that we had to take pictures, of course. We love food and we love to talk about food:
This feast was a success not only because of the food or tradition, but because of the wonderful people who attended. I want to thank Foodbuzz for giving me this opportunity to share some Mexican traditions with the world, but I’m even more thankful to my friends and family for making this a wonderful day full of delicious food and great company. I’ll be sharing the recipes for these tamales during the following weeks. But here’s the list of tamales we devoured Saturday morning:
Corn husk tamales:
- Rajas with cheese
- Pork in green sauce
- Chicken with poblano mole
- Guajillo sauce with raisins
Oaxaca (banana leaf) tamales:
Are you in the mood for tamales now?